The sharp falls of the domestic Chinese Stock exchange and the oil price in the first full week of the new year have caused some to raise the alarm about world economic prospects. Some fear another banking crash, some fear a commodities led collapse, some think this time the worst of the crisis will be amongst the emerging markets.
The economic establishment takes a different view. The main forecasters expect the world economy to continue growing at around 3% this year, led by India and China amongst the emerging economies, and by the USA and UK amongst the advanced economies, much as 2015 saw. The consensus sees interest rates staying low in Japan and the Euro area, and edging up a little if at all in the USA and UK. Euro area and Japanese monetary policy will remain very accommodating, whilst credit will advance a bit in the USA and UK.
It is true that the establishment view is usually wrong when a crisis looms. They did not forecast the crash of 2008, though it was the erratic monetary policies of the USA, the Eurozone and UK which brought it on in a very predictable way. I do not see the same mistakes being made this time by advanced country central banks, so I do not expect a western 2008 style crisis in 2016.
The three problem areas that do cause concern in 2016 are commodity based activities, some emerging market countries, and the continuing political and economic stresses in some Euro area countries.
We still have not reached bottom in commodity markets. We are awaiting the closures of mines and oil wells on a sufficient scale to remove the excess production. Then prices can rise and commodity backed companies and countries start to earn better money. Whilst we wait there will be further harsh cuts in energy and commodity investment with knock on effects for manufacturing. The main advanced countries gain benefit from lower prices of raw materials and energy and from the disinflationary effects allowing continuing loose money policies.
The worst placed emerging market economies are in Latin America. Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina in their different ways are all struggling to run more prudent policies that will escape inflation and recession. They are not big enough to bring down the world economy, but are painful for their citizens and unhelpful to world business activity and banking credits.
There remain difficulties in getting governments in Greece, Portugal and Spain that will deliver the austerity policies of the Euro. Given the willingness of governments and citizens of a wide range of opinions to wish to stay in the Euro, I do not expect a Euro break up this year, but there could be another phase to the rolling crisis.
And what of China? China with $3.3 trillion on the reserves has options. I expect the Chinese authorities to cut rates more, loosen credit, and seek to reflate the economy. The economy there may be past the worst, though the domestic stock market remains unhappy with reluctant holders still owning shares.